SABC will never threaten arrest for TV licence non-payment

The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) says it will never threaten non-paying TV licence holders with a warrant of arrest.

This came in a warning from the public broadcaster regarding an email scam campaign, where malicious actors are impersonating the SABC and threatening to issue arrest warrants for failing to pay TV licence fees.

“The public is advised to ignore the contents of a correspondence coming from an email address [email protected] (TV License Board),” the SABC said in a statement.

“This is not an SABC email address, and the Corporation will not at any point threaten anyone with a warrant of arrest.”

It also advised its customers not to download any attachments from the fake email, as it instructs recipients to do.

The SABC has been struggling with TV licence fee collections for a long time, with payment avoidance wreaking havoc with its finances.

Its TV licence revenue declined from R928 million in the 2013/14 financial year to R741 million in 2022/23 — when it billed R4.5 billion.

In August 2022, a MyBroadband reader received an SMS with frightening wording from one of the SABC’s debt collectors.

“HC requires immediate attention to the full settlement of RXXX…” it read, leading the recipient to believe it was threatening High Court action against them.

At the time, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) told MyBroadband that the High Court would never send an SMS to an alleged debtor for payment of any fees.

It added that it was aware of SMS communication being sent to non-paying TV licence holders with misleading about what can (and will) be done to them if they don’t pay

“Often these SMSs contain incorrect information and incorrect amounts,” it said.

Advocate Stefanie Fick, executive director at Outa.

“If an order or judgment was obtained against an alleged debtor, that order or judgment must personally be brought to the debtors’ attention — normally through personal service by a Sheriff of the court.”

Outa explained that the SABC and its debt collectors have two methods of enforcement against non-paying customers.

“An overdue account incurs a penalty of 10% per month and 100% per annum. Furthermore, there are two methods of enforcement, criminal and civil enforcement,” it told MyBroadband.

Civil enforcement is pursued through the debt collection process to recover outstanding debt, while the SABC can apply criminal enforcement for contravening the Broadcasting Act.

South Africans who avoid paying their TV licence are committing an offence and could be liable to a fine of up to R500 and jail time of up to six months if convicted in a criminal court.

While this is an avenue the SABC has, Outa added that it wasn’t aware of anyone being criminally convicted of an offence for non-payment of their TV licence.

In March 2022, a MyBroadband forum user shared a text message they had received from one of the SABC’s debt collectors — Revco — regarding the non-payment of their TV licence fees.

“STOP a Trace Alert being activated on your ID at the Credit Bureau. Pay TV Licence NOW,” it said, followed by the amount owed and the recipient’s account details.

This left the customer stressing about the possibility of being blacklisted and how their credit rating could be affected.

However, Outa’s executive director for accountability and public governance, Stefanie Fick, explained that trace alerts do not impact your credit rating.

“The only way anything can have a bearing on your credit, in this instance, is if the SABC go to court and get an order,” she said.

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SABC will never threaten arrest for TV licence non-payment